Cultural Creation of Gender Identity (John Cort, Fall 2004)

Compiled by John Cort

The following four entries were in response to a request for titles of novels, short stories, and autobiographical writings on the cultural shaping of gender roles in South Asia, September 2004.

1. My mind went to a section of Nirad Chaudhuri’s HINDUISM, CH 2, “The Cults of Siva and Durga-Kali”, (before and after p.250) where Chaudhuri tells about his childhood experiences of learning about Kali and tantric practices associated with her in the Bengali context. Not strictly about gender roles but the transcendent offers the model for the mundane in more ways than we often recognize.

2. Anita Rao Badami’s “The Hero’s Walk”; some of the short stories in Shawna Singh Baldwin’s “English Lessons” may be helpful as well; Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things”; there is also Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Sister of My Heart” and (perhaps less relevant for your student) “Vine of Desire”; for fiction dealing with gender and sexual identity, see Shyam Selvaduai’s “Funny Boy” and “Cinnamon Gardens” (Selvadurai’s work is set in Sri Lanka, but may be helpful nonetheless); see also Anita Desai’s “Fasting, Feasting”.

3. If you don’t mind the distraction of setting the story in the time of partition, you might consider Amrita Pritam’s short story “The Skeleton,” which is available in translation.

4. Karlekar, Malavika, Voices from Within. Early Personal Narratives of Bengali Women, Delhi 1991 Sarkar, Tanika, Words to Win. The Making of Amar Jiban. A Modern Autobiography, Delhi, Kali for Women, 1999 (Text and very long introduction) Both of them concentrate more on the historical aspect of the question, but they contain lots of further references on the topic of autobiography and the learning on gender roles.